Friday, September 24, 2010

Quit Wordsmithing The Opening - It will NEVER be right

I have heard time and time again about writers obsessing over the opening lines or paragraphs of their books. It's always the same thing, "I have to hook my reader! If I don't the agent or editor won't buy my book." Now, while part of this is true, I have to stress that the opening paragraph or line is not going to make or break your story.

When we talk about hooking the reader, we are talking about the beginning of the book. Not simply the first lines of the book. Sure, having a great opening is fantastic, we can always have a great line to get things rolling, but we want the full chapter to really suck us in.

This is, unfortunately, one more of those situations where authors are putting too much into what the agents and editors are saying on their blogs, in articles they writer, or in conversations they have with authors at conferences.

When we read your stories, we want to always want to keep reading. This is not just at the beginning but throughout the entire book. Think about the books you love. I'm talking about the ones you simply couldn't put down. Was it only the first line of the book? The first paragraph? Absolutely not, it was the entire story. The author continually added layers or twists that made you want to find out how the characters would get through this next obstacle.

I want you to take a look at the books you like a lot. I'm talking about the books that really hooked you. My bet is that it wasn't just the first line.

So, stop obsessing over that opening line. In fact, stop obsessing over those single sentences and words throughout your entire novel. Look at the whole thing as a big picture. Is this a story that people will want to keep reading? Is this story doing something ALL of the time to keep me wanting to turn pages? That is what you want.



  1. I wholly agree. I had this problem. I revised and revised and revised. Finally, I pulled all the books off the shelves and checked out the first pages. Most of them didn't have anything particularly special about their first sentence, and I finally stopped pulling my hair out over it. I'm so glad you brought this up. It'll save a lot of wasted time for a lot of people.

  2. I may be on my own with this but I will tear through the books on my shelf, the bookstores or at the library reading the first few sentences of a book. I’m intrigued by the way an author begins her story. Many beginnings are nice, but not compelling enough to buy or rent the book, but others make me turn pages until I’m hooked and I know I have to read the rest of the story. Of course, as you said, the whole chapter and each that follow must draw you in and lure you to turn the page to figure out the why. Great post!

  3. I began writing my novel in 2005. Although I am finished writing it, I'm editing it to death. Not just the beginning, either. From now on, every time I'm tempted to edit some more, I'll snap the rubber band on my wrist and force myself to stop it.

  4. I feel sorry for writers who blindly follow whatever advice some agency "professionals" feel compelled to give.

    There is a blog run by an "editor" who is also an aspiring writer and he really pounds home the "tension in the first line or else" meme. (He uses Donald Maass' advice books as the reason for this.)

    He gave an example of his own first line and in my opinion it was awful. But apparently once an idea gets into some people's heads it just can't be changed.


  5. Cheers for this, it's encouraging to read. Now I think about it I don't judge books by the opening (and especially not the blurb), I open a book somewhere in the middle and see if's still good.